Federal decisions have the potential to affect many aspects of our communities. Where do environmental considerations fit into the planning of these projects? And how can you make sure your opinions and concerns about the environment are heard and considered by decision makers? The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process is one opportunity for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hear and consider the opinions and concerns of potentially affected communities. The NEPA decision-making process allows the Corps, other agencies and community members to work together to create the best environmental outcomes for our region. We want to ensure the Omaha District is engaged in responsible environmental stewardship. In carrying out these responsibilities, we also strive to be responsive to communities and look at ways to minimize potential impacts from our actions.
NEPA and how it enhances decision making
The National Environmental Policy Act (1969) is a Federal law applicable to all Federal agencies. NEPA requires these agencies to undertake an environmental assessment of their proposed actions before making decisions and taking action. Most federal agencies, including the Corps, also have enacted their own, agency-specific NEPA implementing regulations. The NEPA process is intended to promote better agency decisions by ensuring high-quality environmental information is available to agency officials and the public before the agency decides whether and how to undertake a federal action.
While NEPA does not require an agency to achieve particular environmental results, it does require an agency to take a hard look at the potential environmental impacts of a proposed federal action. Under NEPA, the Omaha District works closely with other Federal agencies and state, local and Tribal governments; public and private organizations; and the public to better understand these potential environmental impacts. The Omaha District considers many different factors in the natural, economic and social environments, such as:
Endangered or sensitive species and their habitats
- Cultural resources
- Floodplains and wetlands
- Noise levels, water quality and air quality
- Human health and safety
- Social and economic impacts to communities
In addition, where appropriate, measures to avoid, minimize or mitigate environmental impacts are included in the analysis.
Documentation of Decisions Under NEPA
The appropriate NEPA documentation for a particular proposed project or action depends largely on the significance – in terms of context and intensity – of the project’s potential environmental impacts. Typical NEPA documents include:
- An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is prepared for federal actions that may have a significant effect on the human environment. The EIS process involves several steps defined by regulation that an agency must follow.
- An Environmental Assessment (EA) is prepared for federal actions when the significance of environmental impact is not clear. If after preparing an EA, it is determined that the impact is significant, an EIS is then prepared. If not, a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) is documented.
- A Categorical Exclusion (CATEX) is prepared for federal actions that do not require an EIS or an EA because they do not have the potential for significant environmental impacts, either individually or cumulatively. A CATEX documents that the action fits within defined CXATEX categories.
Participate in the NEPA process
Your role is very important in the NEPA process that occurs during planning. With your input, agency decision makers can have a better understanding of your opinions and concerns that should be considered throughout the NEPA process. There are several ways to share your opinions and concerns with us and help shape the alternatives and factors considered in the analysis:
- Put your name on a mailing list to receive newsletters, updates and other information from the Corps.
- Check your local paper and the Federal Register (https://www.federalregister.gov/) about the dates, times, and location of public meetings and ways to submit comments.
- Provide your input on Corps-proposed projects, plans, programs and policies. Be sure to do so before the close of the scoping/comment period.
- Ask a Corps official to attend a meeting of your community organization, neighborhood association, school or other civic organization.